Art, inspiration cheer campers
I smile, even though I hurt, see, I smile,
I know God is working so I smile,
Even though I’ve been here for a while
I smile, smile..
It’s so hard to look up when you’ve been down.
Sure would hate to see you give up now.
You look so much better when you smile, so smile
— Kirk Franklin, “I Smile”
By Susan Shinn
St. John’s Lutheran Church
Thirteen students had a lot to smile about last week as they attended the Barnabas Connection Camp at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
A partnership between the church and the X2 Program of Rowan County’s Youth Services Bureau, the camp brings together students from throughout the county with adult volunteers. The group spends the week creating art and music and getting to know and trust one another.
The camp is named for Barnabas, a helper for St. Paul.
“He set an example of standing up for someone,” volunteer Joyce Caddell told the group early in the week. “Everybody has made mistakes. We need someone to stand with us.”
Providing the art and music component were Jimmy and Lesley Alston and Leslie Hudson-Tolles, whom the group affectionately called “H-T.”
Working with Hudson-Tolles, everyone in the group — volunteers included — made block prints using sturdy rubber rectangles and then using thick printing ink to complete each piece. They made enough for everyone in the group to have a keepsake copy of each person’s design.
Destiny Gadson and Gladys McDaniel seemed to want to talk a little more than they wanted to work, but got going under the gentle supervision of volunteer Celia Jarrett. At another table, Katelyn Newton, Marcayla McDaniel and George Abernathy McCoy worked diligently on their creations. Thomas Lewis, who liked to be called “Mr. Lewis,” worked close by with volunteer Dave Roof.
“I like what we do,” Gladys said of the camp. “I like the music and art. The artists bring in things to inspire us.”
Hudson-Tolles worked with Tiffany Gadson on her block print, which read, “God is good all the time.” The lettering had to be done backward, so Hudson-Tolles was glad to help before passing the cutting tool to Tiffany.
“You’re getting in the groove,” she told Tiffany. “Perfect! There you go. Awesome!”
Eight other adult volunteers helped out during the week.
Shirley Ritchie has participated in the program for all six years. She and Caddell serve the hungry group at lunchtime each day.
“The goal of the camp is to give students an opportunity to develop their creative sides and to gain self-esteem,” she said. They get to know both fellow students and adults. Groups are usually very shy at first, but this week’s group came together from day one, she said.
“Every day they come in, they seem to be happier and smiling more. They want to be here.”
“It’s a part of our faith to give back,” Roof said. “There are so many kids who need extra support.
He doesn’t volunteer for himself, but he does derive a great deal of satisfaction from the program. He recounted the story of meeting Neegbeah Reeves five years ago. It was “a real Holy Spirit moment,” Roof said, because the two soon found they only lived a block from one another. Neegbeah reminded him of his own son. The two became friends. Neegbeah began coming to Scouts with Roof, and recently earned his Eagle Scout award. He graduated from North Rowan High School in June and will attend N.C. A&T State University this fall.
During morning devotions, Roof talked about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown in the fiery furnace and survived. Many times, he said, God surprises us. He used dry ice to demonstrate the surprising ways this substance works.
Andi Boylan is program director for the X2 Program. Toward the end of the school year, she began seeking students who needed to be directed to a positive activity.
During the week, she said, “I see that these kids do not exemplify the labels that have been put on them. I see them rising to my expectations. I’m impressed with them. I can’t help but fall in love with who they are. They’re being real.”
Susan Shinn is communications assistant at St. John’s Lutheran Church.